As we prepare for our next youth Black Belt test (to be held on June 9, at 6 p.m.) I can’t help feeling amazed at the skills of the two testers, Mr. Colin and Mr. Sam. I have watched them train hard consistently for several years, with an incredible surge of effort in the months leading up to the momentous occasion. This level of skill, effort, and commitment is impressive at any age; in youth students it is extraordinary.
By achieving Black Belt at such an early age, these students have learned to set and achieve goals, the value of perseverance, and to never give up. How often have we heard someone say, “I’m going to become an expert musician!” or “I’m going to get in the best shape of my life!” and then stick with their plan for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months? Eventually they lose track and never fully realize their goal. I know I’ve heard that, and I’ve also been that person, but these two young men are of a different sort. These guys don’t just talk about achieving goals; they achieve them.
I do believe that if you look up Black Belt in a dictionary, you might see a picture of these two young men. Not only are they skilled martial artists, they are great kids. I am very proud and I am very fortunate to work with them.
But don't take my word for it! I would encourage everyone to come out and witness the promotion of these two talented young men to the elite rank of Black Belt.
You know, people ask me all the time, “Sensei Jon, what is your secret to success?” OK, so no one has ever asked me that, but I have had the great fortune of working with many individuals that seem to really excel at what they do, and I would like to share an observation with you. Every student is different; however, I’ve noticed some recurring trends among the students that become Black Belts, not just Black Belts in the martial arts, but “Black Belts in life.”
Black Belts (and future Black Belts) do not seem to be motivated solely by external rewards. It is easy for someone to say, “I want to be a Black Belt one day!” It is much harder to put in the hours of training and buckets of sweat that it takes to reach the Black Belt level. The students that experience the most success are excited to achieve the next rank, there’s no doubt about that, however they realize that excellence is a journey (not a destination). They enjoy training for the sake of training, and do the right thing even when no one is watching. This is how they are able to persevere and put in the countless hours of training required to reach Black Belt.
Now, some people may be more inclined to enjoy their training than others, and I feel that it is the instructors’ responsibility to try to make the classes as enjoyable and exciting as possible. However, as students, we can cultivate our own passion for the arts in many ways. First of all, we can focus on areas to which we feel naturally inclined. Maybe you love to practice your kata, or perhaps you are more at home in the sparring ring. Either way, that is fine. It is important to work on our weak areas, but many of the best martial artists are experts at only a few techniques (quality vs. quantity).
Figure out a training schedule that works for you. Set aside certain times each week for practice at home. Listen to your favorite music or political talk show while banging out your kicks. Start with 5 minutes a day. Once this becomes a habit, you will have laid the foundation for a very successful martial arts career.
Belts and stripes are wonderful things. However, it is only the hard work that goes into said awards that gives them any meaning.
To share a personal factoid, I have been a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for two and a half years (it generally takes longer to achieve belts in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu than in other arts). My attendance at class has been fairly consistent over that time period. Sometimes I think one of the greatest things my instructor has done for me has been to keep me at Blue Belt for this long. It has taught me patience, humility, and to stay motivated by seeing progress in my skills, rather than external rewards. Additionally, when I do achieve my purple belt, it will be one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I have achieved Black Belts in several other styles of martial arts, but I have worked harder to earn my purple belt than any of those belts, and therefore it will be more meaningful.
Another point I’d like to add- it isn’t terribly important to me when I earn my purple belt. What is important is that I do earn it. A wise person once said, “Goals are dreams with deadlines,” and generally I think that is great advice, but in this case, I am enjoying the journey so much, that I’m happy to keep training hard, knowing that when I am ready, I will receive the next belt.
WOW! Three years have come and gone extremely quickly. As many of you may know, I started Law School about one year after Maryland Martial Arts opened its doors. It was a challenging experience, a test if you will- A test which has pushed me beyond my limits. I have been a law school graduate for a little more than 48 hours – and a part of me still cannot believe it! These past three years have been filled with sleepless nights, thousands of pages of reading, cold calling in class, and dozens of wild exams. Yet, it has also been a time of growing, a time of learning, a time of taking responsibility and a time of taking the reigns on my own future.
I am writing this blog because most of our students in the dojo are also students in kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college and post-graduate programs. Each and every single student is a bright, talented and special individual inside of the dojo and beyond. I personally want to congratulate each and every single one of you because by implementing a martial arts lifestyle, you are building a strong foundation to be successful in YOUR education, YOUR future, and YOUR life.
Martial Arts have made me a serious academic student. I started training the martial arts at age 11, like many of our own students, to get an edge in school- and it worked! The parallels between the dojo and the classroom are virtually seamless. Learning complex techniques and strategies in the dojo setting gave me the focus to plow through complex concepts in school. By nailing techniques I never thought I could accomplish, I gained the confidence to write lengthy papers and solve problems head on. By realizing that everyone, no matter their belt rank or age, has something to teach me, I have learned humility, which has kept my mind open to new ideas in my education. Further, it gave me the self-discipline to study hard while others might be indulging in more (at first) appealing activities. Perhaps most importantly, martial arts have taught me balance so that I can manage my time carefully to study, train, work, and have family/friend time. This is of course a non-exhaustive list! These principles have guided me from grade school all the way through law school. It does not matter whether you want to be a writer, singer, doctor, business person, chef, an engineer, a hairstylist, a martial arts instructor or even a lawyer- by being the martial artists that YOU are, you are plowing a positive path towards YOUR future. And for this I congratulate you!
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Maryland Martial Arts family for all the support and encouragement during these three years. Good luck on finishing up your school year and best wishes for the 2012-13 school year!